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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1110

Mr TICKNER(3.32) —Before the commencement of Question Time I was speaking on what I believe to be the clear double standards of the Opposition parties when it comes to the important economic question of the extent or otherwise of regulation of the economy and the question of whether or not there ought to be substantial cutbacks of government expenditure. I believe I was clearly demonstrating the discredited ideology of those in the conservative parties who seek to promote market forces as if they had some economic god-like existence as the solution to Australia's economic problems.

I return to the central thrust of my condemnation of that discredited school of thought which advocates a reduced public sector. I believe it is important to examine Australian Government outlays as a proportion of gross domestic product and compare it with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. While there is no perfect measurement of the comparative size of the public sectors of various countries, I believe the measurement of government expenditure, when coupled with other statistics to which I have referred, must provide the most reliable guide to the comparative size of the public sectors of the countries surveyed. In 1981, the last year for which figures are available, outlays of government in Australia were a smaller share of gross domestic product than in any OECD country other than Spain. I want to make this perfectly clear because more money was spent by governments on the welfare, well-being and quality of life of the citizens of the following countries as compared to Australia-the United States of America, Japan, West Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. When we hear the statements from the Opposition that bemoan what it says is the outrageous size of the public sector in Australia, let it produce the facts. Let it give the Australian people any information on which they can base a comparison and judge the veracity or otherwise of the claims made by Opposition members. They will not do it because the facts are not on their side.

As I have indicated today, quite clearly Australia has a very low level of government expenditure, public sector expenditure, when compared with those countries. Despite this, the free marketeers, or the dries or the economic rationalists-call them what you will-call for further restrictions on the size of the public sector and the level of government expenditure. This economic debate is championed by some of the new arrivals in the Parliament, the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale) being one of them, and he is supported, would you believe, by some of the members of the National Party. I will deal with them in due course. What they all fail to tell the Australian people is that a reduced public sector in Australia would not only put us further behind the rest of the world, but also would amount to a direct attack on the quality of life of every Australian citizen. What they do not tell us is that a reduced government expenditure means a poorer standard of hospitals, private and public schools, roads, and levels of pensions and benefits. What reduced government expenditure means is less expenditure on defence and on support of primary producers. In my own State of New South Wales, where additional government assistance for handicapped persons, both intellectual and physical, is being advocated, it means that in those crucial areas of human need the Australian Government would be cutting back on its responsibilities.

This is not just some remote esoteric academic debate. The question of public expenditure and the level of it is crucial to the quality of life of Australians. It is crucial to reform and to social justice in this country. I believe that the Parliament as a whole ought to deal with integrity with the question of the overall level of government expenditure and the size of the public sector. That means to put aside the slogans, the cheap ploys that the conservatives use, and get down to a critical examination of what size public sector Australia ought to have and in what directions that public sector ought to evolve.

I now turn to another doctrinaire hobby-horse of the free marketeers predominantly found in the Liberal and National parties. This view asserts that there is an excessive level of government regulation of the economy and argues that society would be more affluent and people in Australia would enjoy a higher standard of living if there were less government regulation. I believe this view focuses on laws which play an essential part in the quality of life of Australians. Those who promote deregulation with an uncritical attitude and approach attack such things as consumer protection laws or the arbitration system. If honourable members want proof of what I am saying, look at the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair). What he seeks to do is attack the arbitration system, which of course imposes basic obligations on employers to pay minimum wage levels in specific industries.

Those discredited economic forces in the conservative parties also attack controls over interest rates. They want to open it up to the market place, they say. What they do not say is that if they did that and there was deregulation of interest rate controls, home owners across Australia would be at the mercy of the banks and insurance companies and escalating levels of home loan repayments. If the so-called economic rationalists in the conservative parties had their way, these high interest rates would nail to the wall hundreds of thousands of Australian families. I can assure honourable members that as long as I am the member for Hughes, there is no way that I will ever support the erosion of the standard of living of my constituents and of families in the electorate of Hughes, as the conservative parties would have it eroded.

I now wish to examine not just the logic but the consistency of the Opposition parties and their credibility in advancing these arguments. I might just give an obvious example of the absurdity of this attitude that suggests that we should rush to deregulate society. It was put to me today that the logical consistent conclusion would be: Why should we have such restrictions and regulations as a licensing system for motorists? Why not deregulate-as the hobby-horse is trotted out-driving licences and leave it to the market place to work out who ought to survive in the marketplace as a driver? I suggest that the absurdity of promoting deregulation without critically examining each particular regulation that judges its effectiveness is an absurd and trite point of view to put forward in this Parliament.

I want to examine the consistency and credibility of the Opposition parties when it comes to deregulation. One would have thought that after approximately four decades of Government in recent history we would now have a nation substantially free of government intervention. We all know that probably the biggest barrow that is pushed in the Parliament is that pushed by the National Party of Australia in respect of the question of the regulation or otherwise of primary producers. If the rhetoric is of substance, as we would have it believed, and if we looked at the primary sector we would see free market forces operating par excellence; we would see a relative absence of government involvement.

Let me just briefly tell the House what some four decades of Liberal-National Party free-market forces have done with respect to the regulation of the primary sector. There is not one single aspect of primary production of which I am aware that is not the subject of the most detailed regulation, some levy, some marketing board, some substantial subsidy or the greatest degree of government involvement and control in any part of the Australian economy. Still, the phoneys on the other side, those on the Opposition benches, would have us believe that we ought to embrace deregulation. Goodness gracious me!

Let us have a look at the record of the Opposition parties. Let us start with apples and pears because, of course, these products are subject to extensive government regulation which they have supported. In 1979 those great free marketeers, Malcolm Fraser and Doug Anthony, with very well-known hatred for government regulation, set up a body to look after Australian canned fruits. The Australian Canned Fruits Corporation administers a marketing scheme to market canned apricots, peaches and pears and mixtures of those fruits. Bodies have also been set up to look after the dairy, dried fruit, eggs, honey, meat and livestock, tobacco, wheat and wine industries and so on. There has been board after board, inquiry after inquiry and subsidy after subsidy. It is appalling that the Opposition parties have the gall to talk in this House about deregulation. Such talk is an insult to the intelligence of the Australian people.

A common thread runs through the establishment of the various corporations and boards which regulate and control Australian primary production. That common feature is the realisation by successive governments, including the agrarian socialists from the National Party, that on many occasions it is in the public interest for society and the economy to be regulated and that to allow for forces of the international market-place to operate against primary producers or any other part of Australian society would guarantee the ruination of Australian producers. The fact is that those boards and institutions were established for the specific reason that market forces had failed to provide a fair and just standard of living for Australian producers and, thus, to ensure the best return for the Australian economy.

I have raised these issues to highlight the double standards and the economic and political bankruptcy of those on the Opposition benches who trumpet the phoney call for reduced government expenditure and deregulation of industry and the Australian economy in general. We ought to be having an honest debate in this House about how to achieve a more efficient and accountable public sector; an honest debate about what is the most appropriate form of regulation at any particular time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.